CHAPTER 26 Resisting the Enemy
SOMEDAY THE CHURCH CAN RELAX her guard, call her watchmen down from the wall and live in safety and peace; but not yet, not yet. All that is good in the world stands as a target for all that is evil and manages to stay alive only by constant watchfulness and the providential protection of Almighty God. As a man or a nation may be in deepest trouble when unaware of any trouble at all and in gravest danger when ignorant that any danger exists, so the church may be in greatest peril by not recognizing the presence of peril or the source from which it comes. The church at Laodicea has stood for nineteen hundred years as a serious warning to the whole church of Christ to be most watchful when no enemy is in sight and to remain poor in spirit when earthly wealth increases, yet we appear to have learned nothing from her. We expound the seven letters to the churches of Asia and then return to our own company to live like the Laodicean church. There is in us a bent to backsliding that is all but impossible to cure. The healthiest man has enough lethal bacteria in him to kill him within twenty-four hours except for one thing— the amazing power of the human organism to resist bacterial attack. Every mortal body must fight its internal enemies day and night. Once it surrenders its hours are numbered. Quite literally it must fight or die. The reason for this is that the human race inhabits a fallen world which is in many ways hostile to it. Nature as well as man is fallen; and as sin is normal human powers gone astray, so disease results from microscopic creatures once meant to be useful to men but now out of hand and perverted. To live, the body must resist these invisible enemies successfully, and considering our high vulnerability and the number of our enemies it is wonderful that any of us manages to live beyond his childhood. The church lives in a hostile world. Within and around her are enemies that not only could destroy her, but are meant to and will unless she resists force with yet greater force. The Christian would collapse from sheer external pressure were there not within him a counterpressure sufficiently great to prevent it. The power of the Holy Spirit is, therefore, not optional but necessary. Without it the children of God simply cannot live the life of heaven on earth. The hindrances are too many and too effective. A church is a living organism and is subject to attack from such enemies as prey on living things. Yet the figure of the human body to stand for the church is not adequate, for the life of the body is nonintelligent, whereas the church is composed of moral beings having intelligence to recognize their enemies and a will to enable them to resist. The human body can fight its enemies even while it is asleep, but the church cannot. She must be awake and determined or she cannot win. One enemy we must resist is unbelief. The temptation is strong to reject what we cannot explain, or at least to withhold belief till we have investigated further. This attitude is proper, even commendable, for the scientist, but wholly wrong for the Christian. Here is the reason: The faith of the Christian rests down squarely upon the Man Christ Jesus who declares that He is both God and Lord. This claim must be received by pure faith or rejected outright; it can never be proved by investigation. That is why Christ’s appeal is directed to faith alone. The believer thinks, it is true; but he thinks because he believes, not in order that he may. Faith secures from the indwelling Spirit confirmation exquisitely perfect, but only after it is there without other support than Christ Himself. Another enemy is complacency “Woe to them that are at ease in Zion.” The contended Christian is not in danger of attack, he has already been attacked. He is sick and does not know it. To escape this we must stir up the gift of God which is in us. We must declare war on contentment and press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Again there is self-righteousness. The temptation to feel morally pleased with ourselves will be all the greater as our lives become better. The only sure defense against this is to cultivate a quiet state of continual penitence A sweet but sobering memory of our past guilt and a knowledge of our present imperfections are not incompatible with the joy of the Lord; and they are of inestimable aid in resisting the enemy. The fear of man brings a snare, said the prophet, and this enemy, too, must be defeated. Our whole modern world is geared to destroy individual independence and bring all of us into conformity to all the rest of us. Any deviation from the pattern, whatever that pattern may be at the time, will not be forgiven by society, and since the Christian must deviate radically from the world he naturally comes in for the world’s displeasure. If he surrenders to fear he has been conquered, and he dare not let this happen. Other enemies may be identified, such as love of luxury, secret sympathy with the world, self-confidence, pride and unholy thoughts. These we must resist with every power within us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.
We Are Saved To as well as From
THE EVANGELICAL CHURCH TODAY is in the awkward position of being wrong while it is right, and a little preposition makes the difference. I think there can be no question but that if we let the Bible decide right and wrong the evangelicals are right in their creedal position. Even the skeptic. H. L. Mencken. said, “If the Bible is true, the fundamentalists are right.” He did not grant the truth of the Bible, but he was sharp enough to see that the basic doctrines taught by fundamentalists were identical with those taught by the Bible. One place where we are wrong while we are right is in the relative stress we lay upon the prepositions to and from when they follow the word saved. For a long generation we have been holding the letter of truth while at the same time we have been moving away from it in spirit because we have been preoccupied with what we are saved from rather than what we have been saved to. The right relative importance of the two concepts is set forth by Paul in his first epistle to the Thessalonians: “Ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; and to wait for his Son from heaven.” The Christian is saved from his past sins. With these he simply has nothing more to do; they are among the things to be forgotten as the night is forgotten at the dawning of the day. He is also saved from the wrath to come. With this also he has nothing to do. It exists, but not for him. Sin and wrath have a cause and effect relationship, and because for the Christian sin is canceled wrath is canceled also. The from’s of the Christian life concern negatives, and to be engrossed in them is to live in a state of negation. Yet that is where many earnest believers live most of the time. We are not called to fellowship with nonexistence. We are called to things that exist in truth, to positive things, and it is as we become occupied with these that health comes to the soul. Spiritual life cannot feed on negatives. The man who is constantly reciting the evils of his unconverted days is looking in the wrong direction. He is like a man trying to run a race while looking back over his shoulder. What the Christian used to be is altogether the least important thing about him. What he is yet to be is all that should concern him. He may occasionally, as Paul sometimes did, remember to his own shame the life he once lived; but that should be only a quick glance; it is never to be a fixed gaze. Our long permanent look is on God and the glory that shall be revealed. What we are saved from and what we are saved to bear the same relation to each other as a serious illness and recovered health. The physician should stand between these two opposites to save from one and restore to the other. Once the great sickness is cured the memory of it should be thrust out onto the margin of the mind to grow fainter and weaker as it retreats farther away; and the fortunate man whose health has been restored should go on to use his new strength to accomplish something useful for mankind. Yet many persons permit their sick bodies to condition their mental stuff so that after the body has gotten well they still retain the old feeling of chronic invalidism they had before. They are recovered, true enough, but not to anything. We have but to imagine a group of such persons testifying every Sunday about their late illnesses and singing plaintive songs about them and we have a pretty fair picture of many gatherings among Christians today. There is an art of forgetting, and every Christian should become skilled in it. Forgetting the things which are behind is a positive necessity if we are to become more than mere babes in Christ. If we cannot trust God to have dealt effectually with our past we may as well throw in the sponge now and have it over with. Fifty years of grieving over our sins cannot blot out their guilt. But if God has indeed pardoned and cleansed us, then we should count it done and waste no more time in sterile lamentations. And thank God this sudden obliteration of our familiar past does not leave us with a vacuum. Far from it. Into the empty world vacated by our sins and failures rushes the blessed Spirit of God, bringing with Him everything new. New life, new hope, new enjoyments, new interests, new purposeful toil, and best of all a new and satisfying object toward which to direct our soul’s enraptured gaze. God now fills the recovered garden, and we may without fear walk and commune with Him in the cool of the day. Right here is where the weakness of much current Christianity lies. We have not learned where to lay our emphasis. Particularly we have not understood that we are saved to know God, to enter His wonder-filled Presence through the new and living way and remain in that Presence forever. We are called to an everlasting preoccupation with God. The Triune God with all of His mystery and majesty is ours and we are His, and eternity will not be long enough to experience all that He is of goodness, holiness and truth. In heaven they rest not day or night in their ecstatic worship of the Godhead. We profess to be headed for that place; shall we not begin now to worship on earth as we shall do in heaven?